Mental Health Communication Whitepaper

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Mental Health Communication Tools

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Twenty-percent of American adults experience a mental health condition every year, and 1 in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness. From previous research and experience, we know that changing the way people talk about mental health can reduce negative stigma and stereotypes.

When considering who can have a significant com­municative impact on the way our society talks and thinks about mental health and serious mental illness, two groups of professionals have the power to reach and influence large audiences: journalists and frontline healthcare providers (physicians, nurses, pharmacists, specialists, technicians, etc.). Training these professionals — especially when they are students — to more accurately, sensitively, and effectively communicate about this important topic can start a ripple effect of positive change throughout society.

Therefore, with the support of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, we have created resources that address one overarching, important question; What are the best ways to train healthcare profes­sionals and journalists about mental health and mental illness communication... and why should we care?

Whitepaper: Mental Health Communication:
What We Know and What We Can Do Better

Focusing on traditional journalists and healthcare providers, we’ve reviewed existing academic research around mental health-related communication, including sub-topics like stigma, provider challenges, and journalistic framing. This whitepaper is an overarching summary of what we know about effective mental health communication, culminating in four evidence-based recommendations on how we can improve. Our goal is to provide pragmatic, approachable solutions, so we can begin to change the way everyone thinks and talks about mental health.

Interested in this project but don’t have time right now to absorb the whole thing? Check out our front-and-back summaries for journalists and medical professionals

Curriculum modules

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Mental Health Conditions 101

This module introduces basic statistics about prevalence of mental health conditions, de-bunks common myths about people with mental health diagnoses, and helps students understand how they can reduce negative stigma.

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Slides- CHC Mental Health Facts 101
Instructor Guide

VIDEO
Mental Health 101 Video Lecture

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Understanding, Recognizing and Addressing Implicit Bias

This lesson will help students face their subconscious beliefs and fears about mental health conditions, and show them how to start evolving their thinking around stereotypes and biases.

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Slides- Understanding, Recognizing and Addressing Implicit Bias
Instructor Guide
Friedman (2014)

VIDEO
Understanding and Recognizing Implicit Bias

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Structural Competency

It’s important to understand how political powers, national policies, local laws and policies, institutional racism, economics, and other social structures can create or exacerbate mental health challenges, and well as prevent folks from seeking and receiving treatment.

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Slides- Structural Competency
Instructor Guide
Social Determinants of Mental Health
Pickett & Wilkinson (2010) Inequality as source of mental illness

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Non-Verbal Communication in Patient-Provider Interactions

This module helps medical students understand the basics of non-verbal communication, and introduces small, non-verbal tactics that encourage open communication from patients about mental health challenges.

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Slides- Non-Verbal Communication in Patient-Provider Interactions
Instructor Guide
MedProGroup – Patient-Provider Communication Guide

Don’t have time for a full lesson? We have standalone activities to help individuals or groups engage with topics related to mental health communication.

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Problematic Patient Chart

Participants review a fake patient’s medical chart, which contains stigmatizing and subjective language about the “patient’s” mental health status. They are asked to replace problematic words and phrases with more sensitive, accurate, and person-centered verbiage. This activity includes an instructor guide, a fake patient chart, an “improved” patient chart, and de-briefing discussion questions.

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Activity Guide

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Observation Activity

Participants are asked to pay close attention to media, personal conversations, and the general world around them for 24 hours, to observe how (and how often) mental health is discussed in a typical day. The goal is to draw attention to how society talks about mental health and mental illness, and encourage participants to think critically the messages they encounter in their daily lives. This activity includes an instructor guide, worksheet to record observations, and de-briefing discussion questions.

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Activity Guide